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Dublin: 10°C Sunday 9 May 2021

Cooney's match-winner years in the making

Head coach Dan McFarland admits he was not initially confident his 9 had made the right call to go it alone.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

JOHN COONEY IS a huge believer in the power of positive thinking.

And midway through a tight and seriously tough second half against Clermont, he showed the value of it.

Ulster’s star scrum-half was not hitting his usual flawless form despite Ulster holding a 13-6 lead. He spurned a gilt-edged chance in the first-half by trying to go it alone, and early in the second period he dropped two penalties to touch short of the line.

And yet, when an opportunity arose on 62 minutes, he backed himself.

“John said in the changing room there,” recounted Ulster boss Dan McFarland post-match, “that he has practised that exact move – breaking blind, chip the fullback and scoring.

Now, if anyone knows John that exactly the sort of thing he’d do. He’s been practising it for years and never done it in a game. So he pulls it out of the bag in a Champions Cup game.”

As the move unfolded and Cooney sniped with nobody in support, McFarland’s faith was severely, yet briefly, questioned.

“I was in the box watching. There was a big shout of ‘no’ followed by a big shout of ‘yes’. John Cooney has a lot of tricks in his bag. He’s an incredibly skillful player and it was a great bit of play from him.”

The win over the French giants sees Ulster move top of Heineken Champions Cup pool 3 on eight points, two ahead of Clermont as they collected a losing bonus in Belfast. It was a result that was hard-won, with the men from the Massif Centrale pushing for a smash and grab win until the death.

“There’s a lot to be very pleased about in that performance. Particularly the way we limited their opportunities when they had ball in hand.

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“I said before the game we had to hunt like a pack, we had to bring collective pressure and we had to do that consistently.
“Jared (Payne, defence coach) and his preparation with the team and the effort the guys put in tonight did that.

“On the reverse side of things, we showed some glimpses of what we can do in attack and if we’d been a little more clinical we might have had two more tries and the bonus point.

About the author:

Sean Farrell  / Reports from Kingspan Stadium

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